If you are a regular Kanpai reader, you will know that I am particularly fond of high vantage points. It does obviously make sense to observe topographical features as well as the lay-out of big cities from high up in order to gain a different perspective when off the ground. This is certainly the reason why I am also very much attracted to flying.
Having visited a lot of observatories in Japan, in particular in Tokyo where there are many, I made up my mind to go for an even more aerial experience: to book a helicopter ride over Japan’s capital city. Several companies offer the general public a range of options; with Excel-Air, you can book your flight in advance (in Japanese or in English) through their website. The price for an average fifteen minutes in the air is twenty thousand yens.
Let us stop a while to consider the cost of this activity as I am aware that it is certainly arguable. It is quite a sum indeed and even though the exchange rate for the yen at the time was to our advantage and VAT still at 5% (which means that I paid 139€ all included for my ride), it is certainly not the most cost-efficient activity during a trip in Japan. However, my personal opinion is that the scales should not always be tipped in favor of cost efficiency when selecting activities. There are plenty of similar ones like jet-ski, parachuting, or, to a lesser degree, karting.
However I do not in the least regret my choice, so astounding was the experience. This, of course, may not be everybody’s opinion.
To go to the heliport, you need to get to Maihama in Tokyo Bay, to the south-east of the city beyond Odaiba. The meeting point is located a few hundred meters from Tokyo Disney Sea so if you go by train, you’re bound to come across Mickey Mouse style families on your way! At the station in Maihama there is a free shuttle to the heliport three times an hour. It is an approximately ten minutes’ ride and the service is just as high-end as that provided by taxis, even higher.
You need to get there half-an-hour before schedule in order to confirm your presence, then you are made to wait in a lounge where a waitress will take your order. All soft drinks are free including for people who have come along to accompany you. A few minutes before boarding, you have to go through a security check and listen to a few instructions and explanations. It is forbidden, in particular, to take along your mobile as well as drinks.
Fasten your seatbelts!
The inside is surprisingly spacious: there are eight seats, four of which are located beside the windows, obviously for the sake of the view. The glass is very thick and it is therefore extremely difficult, owing to the strong vibrations, to take beautiful photographs, all the more so because of the dwindling light (which explains the poor quality of the photos illustrating this article, for which I apologize). Dear photographer friends, be warned! As far as I am concerned, I was keen to watch the sunset but I got booked on a ride scheduled to take off moments after it was all over. The sun had in fact just set over Tokyo.
The very high level of noise is quickly forgotten as soon as your eyes start to get their fill right after take-off. Surprise comes first, then excitement to take in the scope and the life of Japan’s capital city from a few hundred meters above ground. The flight plan takes you to the center of town near the Tokyo Tower then on to the Tokyo Sky Tree, which the helicopter circles almost completely.
During the ride, you fly over the most emblematic areas of the megalopolis, such as the Shinjuku buildings, the polders in Odaiba, the large Imperial Park or Ueno. The view is definitely breath-taking and during the whole (short) flight you feel you are experiencing a unique approach of Tokyo.
If you have the opportunity and you want to see Tokyo from another angle, a helicopter ride is an experience I strongly recommend.
How to get to Helicopter Ride
By train -- JR Keiyo or Musashino line, Maihama station then 10 minutes shuttle taxi
By taxi -- Address: Urayasu Heliport, 14 Chidori, Urayasu-shi, Chiba / In Japanese: 〒279-0032 千葉県浦安市千鳥14番 (phone: 047-380-3353)
Location reachable with the JRP : order your Japan Rail Pass (from ~US$ 279)
- ¥20,400 (~US$ 188.10) per adult
- ¥14,200 (~US$ 130.90) per child
Get your Japanese Yens free of charge
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 11am to 7pm
Thursday, Saturday, Sunday and public holidays from 11am to 5pm
How long / when to visit
Allow two hours total
Ideal at sunset
ヘリコプタークルージング (Helicopter cruising)